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Archive for October, 2007

Regent Seven Seas considers adding fuel surcharge

Posted by Anita Dunham-Potter On October - 31 - 2007

Paul Gauguin moored off Bora Bora (image courtesy of Regent Seven Seas Cruises) Now that oil is over $100 dollars a barrel, cruise lines are starting to re-think adding fuel surcharges. According to Seatrade Insider, a leading cruise industry publication, Regent Seven Seas Cruises is considering instituting a fuel surcharge for 2008 sailings. Regent spokesman Andrew Poulton told Seatrade Insider that if Regent imposes a surcharge it would likely apply only to customers who have not yet paid in full. According to Poulton, Regent’s fuel costs have soared above expectations since with smaller ship the cost of fuel is more significant on a per person basis than on the mega-ships. Poulton says that Regent will make the fuel surcharge decision within the next few days and that the amount will most likely be higher than the $5 daily cost announced two years ago.

In October 2005, Regent announced a fuel surcharge for 2006 sailings that had not been paid in full. The per person, per day amount was $5 for Seven Seas Voyager, Mariner and Navigator and $12 for the Paul Gauguin. No fee was levied for 2007 as Regent had allowed for the cost increases in its published pricing.

Currently, several cruise lines impose fuel surcharges. Costa Cruises began implementing a fee in April in Germany for future bookings, extending the fee in September to the rest of continental Europe for existing and future bookings. In August, AIDA Cruises instituted a surcharge for new bookings. Crystal Cruises has a $5 per person, per day fee and Norwegian cruise line, Hurtigruten has a fuel charge of $6 per person, per day on all sailings.

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You’re not in Rome anymore, so back off Jacko!

Posted by Anita Dunham-Potter On October - 30 - 2007

It’s cliché but flying is a nightmare and hell if you are flying overseas. While flying home from Italy on Monday I was subjected to more checks and pat downs than a prison inmate. How many times within a 10-foot radius must I show my passport and boarding card? In Italy from check-in to actually boarding the flight I had to show my passport and boarding card six times!!! Why, I have no idea since I just showed to someone two feet away. This redundancy is fruitless and stupid. But let’s face it the reason this is all done is to justify a government jobs program — this is Europe after all.

After a week of being pushed and shoved in Europe I was in no mood to be pushed and shoved in lines at home.  Most Americans are quite good about giving space in line – so it comes as no surprise when Europeans come to the U.S. old habits die hard. Such was the case of an Italian couple standing behind me while going through TSA screening at Philadelphia International Airport. I needed several kitty litter sized boxes to put my laptop, shoes, coat, bag of liquids, and then I had to lift up my wheelie bag. The couple started putting their objects on the X-ray belt before I had a chance to put all my items together. Normally I am a patient person, but I politely said you need to give me room. It didn’t translate, they kept pushing me and I finally lost it and shouted – “Back off Jacko,” which they understood. The TSA agent actually showed emotion and laughed. I reminded the couple that since they are in the U.S. there is no need to shove and elbow your way around. We have plenty of room here. I also said if you do this to someone else who is not as nice as me you’re likely to get cursed at or worse.

It’s nice to be home and have some elbow room.

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Huge wave hits cruise ship bridge

Posted by Anita Dunham-Potter On October - 28 - 2007

Here’s one that you don’t see often — the crew’s reaction is priceless!

Filled Under Cruise Videos

Is cruising right for you?

Posted by Anita Dunham-Potter On October - 28 - 2007

I get a lot of e-mails from people asking if a cruise vacation is right for them. It’s a fair question. After all, once the ship leaves the dock, you’re pretty much stuck until the ship turns around and comes home. Here are answers to seven of the most common questions I get from cruise newbies.

1. What should be my first cruise?

There are two ways to go here. Most first-time cruisers choose a short cruise with lots of port calls; they do this because they’re afraid they’ll go crazy if they’re stuck aboard ship. While this is a good strategy if you just want to get your feet wet, I recommend looking for a longer itinerary with some sea days. That way you can relax and enjoy the ship’s facilities. It’s really the only way to find out what “cruising” is all about. So, look for a cruise with some balance between sea days and port days. My recent cruise aboard the Crown Princess from New York City had a great balance: four sea days and five port days.

2. What about seasickness?

It may have all the amenities of a shoreside resort, but a cruise ship does travel on open water. Your body will register that motion no matter how big the ship is or how well it is stabilized. Therefore, if you experience severe motion sickness on land or on airplanes then cruising may not be for you.

Ordinary motion sickness can be relieved by remedies like Dramamine and acupressure bands. (If you forget to pack them, don’t worry; they are always available in the ship’s store.) If you’re susceptible to motion sickness, book a cabin on a lower deck in the middle of the ship where motion is minimized. Even better is a balcony cabin in the middle of the ship; fresh air really does help with motion sickness. If the going gets rough, you can get a motion sickness shot in the ship’s medical center, but understand you’ll be charged a fee ($75 on up).

3. Do I have to get dressed up every night?

If you love dressing up, then by all means do so. But cruising has become less formal in recent years, so fancy dress is optional. In fact, many new ships offer several informal dining venues (e.g., sushi bars, pizzerias, buffets and snack bars) where you needn’t dress up at all. Still, most ships continue to offer two formal nights in the main dining rooms: the Captain’s Welcome and the Farewell Dinner. Formal-night attire ranges from tuxedos to dark suits for men; for women, formal dress ranges from long gowns to dressy pantsuits. More casual dress is appropriate in the dining rooms on other occasions, but most ships do not allow jeans, shorts or sleeveless men’s tops in any dining venue.

4. Do I have to sit with strangers at dinner?

One of the best parts of cruising is getting to meet people from all walks of life. But if you are uncomfortable sitting with people you don’t know, you can arrange a table change with the maitre d’ – but you must do so as soon as you get on board. If you wait too long, the staff may not be able to accommodate you. Understand that tables for two are scarce aboard ship except on luxury cruise lines like Silversea.

5. What about tipping?

Except on a few luxury cruise ships that have “no tipping required” policies, passengers are expected to tip their cabin steward, dining room waiter and assistant waiter. Many lines recommend that each passenger tip about $10 per day, as follows: cabin steward, $3.50; dining room waiter and assistant waiter, $5.50 (shared); and bistro service waiter and cooks, $1. Bar bills are automatically charged a 15 percent gratuity for the bartender. Special service personnel such as the maitre d’, deck stewards and bellmen should be tipped as service is rendered.

Some cruise lines offer to add the suggested gratuities to your shipboard account; the accounting office then distributes the tips at the end of the cruise. On other ships, you leave cash in an envelope on the last evening of your cruise. Understand that ships’ crews work very hard to make your cruise top-notch. Unless the service has actually been poor, tip the recommended amount. For outstanding service, add a little more. To get an idea of how much to tip, visit Cruise Tip Calculator, a nifty Web site that lists tipping amounts for each crew member on most cruise lines.

Here’s a tip from me to you: Get your cash tips in order before your cruise and have them organized in separate envelopes for each crew member. Believe me, there’s nothing worse than waiting in a long line at the cruise desk on the last night of the cruise to get all your cash tips in order.

6. Will I gain weight?

Cruising is the ultimate “see food” diet — you see food, you eat it. Yes, most passengers end up with more to love after a cruise. But you don’t have to become a sloth in a deck chair; there are plenty of active pursuits to enjoy aboard ship. Most ships have exercise rooms, pools, jogging tracks and fitness classes covering everything from aerobics to yoga. Newer cruise ships like Royal Caribbean’s Freedom of the Seas offer boxing, rock climbing and surfing classes, while traditional ships like the Queen Mary 2 offer walk-a-mile deck-lapping sessions and aerobics.

7. Can I do my laundry on board?

Most ships have self-service laundry rooms with ironing boards. On most mainstream and premium cruise lines, you’ll have to pay to use the washers and dryers. On luxury lines like Crystal, Regent, Seabourn, Silversea and Regent, the self-serve laundry is complimentary. Don’t want to waste valuable vacation time doing laundry? Then send your clothes to the ship’s laundry or dry cleaner; there will be a per-item charge. During the cruise, many ships offer a “laundry bag special”: For a set fee (usually $10-$20), laundry crew will wash everything you can cram into the laundry bag.

Cruising is a vacation like no other. It offers vast open seas, and the scenery changes every day. The food and service are better than in a resort hotel, all food and entertainment is included in the price, and you have to unpack only once. Believe me, once you try cruising, you will be hooked for life.

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Wind Surf sails off into the sunset

Posted by Anita Dunham-Potter On October - 27 - 2007

The Wind Surf sails off into the sunset on the way to Civitavecchia, RomeWith the rough weather, gale force 9 winds according to Captain Boyle, we stayed an extra day in Monaco just to be safe. Of course, that meant no Portofino and sailing straight to Livorno, Italy on Friday. I would have posted my blogs earlier; however, with the weather the satellite access was not very good, which made logging on impossible.

After we sailed for Livorno the seas were still quite rough, but the crew onboard the Wind Surf made it as pleasant as possible for everyone. Let me say this about the Wind Surf’s crew: They are the friendliest and most accommodating group of individuals that I’ve ever sailed with. The crew is made up of mostly Filipinos and Indonesians who are always smiling and go out of their way to please guests.

Snow on the Italian Alps — it’s cold out here!The crew talent show on Friday night was interesting and they went all out. There was some wild rap dancing to start, and then it moved into an American Idol singing contest, magic act, and then a wild finale where guests played Balinese tambourine thingies. It was fun. Probably the most fun the guests had when it came to the onboard entertainment.

If I were to be picky about one thing on this ship it was the entertainment and lack of enrichment programs. Given the weather and subsequent extra day in Monaco I felt that more should be offered in terms of entertainment and shore excursion options. I talked to the Hotel Director, Geert De Meyer and he said that is something they are trying to improve.

Last Day: Livorno, Italy

The famous and glorious Duomo of Florence, ItalyFinally, a splendid sunny day after three days of wind and rain! The excursion into Florence was terrific. I opted to do “Florence On Your Own” and that allowed guests to do the city at their leisure. Florence is one of those rare cities that is truly an open air museum. At every turn and at every piazza the sights are just astounding. And, if you think October is an “off month” for touring – think again. The city was packed – there were four cruise ships in Livorno and that meant a lot of tourists in town. I met a lot of guests from the Carnival Freedom and it was fun chatting with them – I knew they were having a great time since I had just cruised on the ship in June.

Amazing FlorenceWell, it’s my last night onboard the Wind Surf. Packing bags at the end of a cruise is always a melancholy experience. As I place items in my suitcases I’ve been reflecting about this experience. Sailing on the Wind Surf is one of the most relaxing cruise vacations one can do. It’s a casual atmosphere that is not regimented and because there are only 312 passengers onboard it’s very cozy. I met some terrific folks onboard from all over the U.S. and Europe; truly terrific sailing partners. I will miss all of it! Now, it’s off to Rome and a long US Airways flight home to Pittsburgh Monday.
The Carnival Freedom as we leave Livorno — are they watching “Under the Tuscan Sun” again??Ciao for now!

P.S. I am including this photo of Carnival Freedom as we leave Livorno.  You can see the bright movie screen — are they playing “Under the Tuscan Sun”…again?  I send a big hello out to cruise directors Todd Wittmer who just took over the reigns from my pal John Heald!  John, enjoy time off and I’ll see you in January!!

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Cote d’Brrrrr…

Posted by Anita Dunham-Potter On October - 26 - 2007

Wind Surf and Wind Spirit docked in Monaco The Wind Surf is docked in the comfy confines of Hercule Harbor surrounded by multi-million dollar yachts including Princess Caroline’s. We’re in the midst of a cold wave here on the Cote d’Azur and you need to be dressed warm – something I didn’t plan too well at as I expected temperatures at least 20 degrees higher – not in the 40’s. The Monegasques are appropriately attired in Burberry, Hermes, Louis Vuitton and the like. I in my Gap khaki pants and black windbreaker don’t fit in but my Prada backpack does.

Today, I’ll be touring the mediaeval walled town of Eze and the Rothschild Villa and Gardens. The 9th century village of Eze, France ranks high on the list as things to see in French Riviera. After a ten-minute walk straight up the hill I found myself 1400 feet above sea level and that fact isn’t lost on me as a hawk soars past my head. At the top of Eze is an expansive view of the glittering Mediterranean Sea that stretches from Italy to Saint-Tropez.

Eze, FranceEze is an amazing place with narrow, cobblestone alleys with a hotel, restaurants, cafes and craft boutiques hidden in tiny caves dug out of the rocky hillside hawking postcards, olive wood cutting boards, saffron, and French scarves. I could have spent the entire day here getting lost, but after one hour we were summoned to the bus to take us to our next stop: Villa de Rothschild.

Built for the Baroness Beatrice Ephrussi de Rothschild, the villa and gardens took five years to build and were eventually finished in 1910. After the Baroness’ death in 1934 she bequeathed the property to the French government, which operates the tours that are enjoyed by approximately 150,000 visitors a year.

Villa de RothschildWith the exception of the Pepto-Bismol colored walls, the house is okay by mansion standards, but I wasn’t impressed. However, the view from the top of Cap-Ferrat and the gardens is impressive. The gardens spread out of several acres and even on this cold October day roses are still in bloom as were many other plants. I would love to visit again when the gardens are in full bloom from May-August.

I return to the ship and have a hot stone massage that makes me into a noodle. I am far too relaxed to go to the restaurant for dinner, so I order a great cheeseburger from room service — sometimes you just don’t want frou-frou food. Afterwards I fall asleep.

View from gardens at Villa de RothschildIt’s Day 2 in Monaco; it’s raining and I don’t feel so good — it’s never a good idea to go to sleep after a cheeseburger. The Wind Surf has company today. Docked behind us is another Windstar ship, Wind Spirit.

I’ve been to Monaco before and I wasn’t really in the mood to go to the casino or go cafe hopping. There were a few Americans onboard complaining that they were treated rudely by waiters in the restaurants the previous evening. I believe it; you haven’t really been to the French Riviera until you’ve been treated like crap by a French waiter. Baptism by escargot.

C’est NemoThe nice thing about Monaco is that there is always something to do here when it rains, museums are a good option. I had not been to aquarium, so I hiked a mere 10-minute in the rain to the Musee Oceanographique Monaco. This is an impressive display of aquatic wildlife from all over the world. There is a huge shark tank that rises two levels and is surrounded by various tanks with different fish exhibits. I have a lot of company today, seems like everyone wants to get in touch with their inner Jacques Cousteau today. Children squeal at the clown fish — I hear one child with a French accent scream “C’est Nemo!”

Moray EeelAfter two hours of aquarium touring, I wander outside where it’s now pouring. Sigh. Still despite the rain there’s something intoxicating about walking around Monaco. Is it the smell of the lemon trees and eucalyptus? I don’t know. I have no qualms about walking around by myself. Let’s put it this way — I am being watched the entire time. There are 340 video surveillance cameras within this one square mile principality. On top of that, there is a ratio of one police officer for every 60 citizens – one of the safest places on earth.

As I end afternoon walking along the pier back to the ship, I encounter two Maseratis (one black and one white) being filmed near the Wind Surf for a commercial. Only in Monaco.

Tomorrow: Portofino, Italy and the Wind Surf’s crew talent show

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